“Does this hat make me look fat?”
The memory of All-4-One lives on in a laugh-out-loud lip-synched rendition from Ryan Reynolds in the romantic comedy Just Friends. A film suggested to me by many, their descriptions always began with an, “it’s stupid, but really, really funny.” They were not wrong as any substantial plot involving the leading ex-BFFs ten years later is ignored in order to showcase a rising Reynolds and his self-deprecating ability to make a fool of himself. Between wearing a fat suit, myriad of pratfalls, and constant barrage of sarcastically mimed actions behind character’s backs, his Chris Brander is the kind of prick worth hanging out with to revel in his humor and brace for his comeuppance. The loser nerd reborn as ladies’ man lothario is strong with this one.
If screenwriter Adam ‘Tex’ Davis is to be applauded—I have to believe at least half of Reynolds’ lines and actions were improvised—it’s that he didn’t take the easy way out plotting the former high school chums’ reunion. The film takes place a decade after graduation, but there’s no lame school function at the center. A big-time record music manager, Chris is actually in town because his boss (Stephen Root) tasked him with corralling former girlfriend and perpetually crazy popstar, Samantha James (Anna Faris). An airplane microwave fire later and the two become grounded serendipitously in his old hometown outside New Jersey—the first time back since escaping to the West Coast. A quick jaunt to the local watering hole ends in a run-in with unrequited love Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart) and his despicable plan to finally break free from the ‘friends zone’.
The film then devolves into a series of misguided attempts to woo her, pushing back the memory of her kiss on the cheek so many years ago in response to his declaration of love. Playing aloof confidence, Chris has become the kind of jerk she dated throughout high school and looks to ride the image into her bed before realizing his path towards immaturity mirrored one of growing up for her. Now on the search for a ‘good guy’ to settle down with and start a family, she misses the overweight yin to her yang and quickly becomes unimpressed by the guy who has replaced him. Bringing the obnoxious Samantha with him definitely doesn’t help his image—except for baby bro Mike (Chris Marquette) who happens to have a shrine to her on his bedroom wall—so he ditches the talent to go on day dates with Jaime.
While the comedic gags involving Smart and Reynolds are funny, their softening into inevitable union grows uninteresting quick. It becomes the job of the supporting cast to entertain in the meantime. An eccentric bunch, their asinine actions and completely over-the-top expressions make the film. Julie Hagerty is a blast as Mrs. Brander, utterly oblivious to life and the cutest kind of stupid possible; Marquette does what he does best by toeing the line of annoyance perfectly to engage in all-out physical brawls with Reynolds like only siblings can; the loathsome Faris pushes her crazy so far left of farce that I think I loved her here, especially when paired with an emptied bottle of toothpaste; and Chris Klein enters the fray with his own brilliant rendition of geek turned stud. An early scene of Klein with acne, long hair, and a stammer is definitely a winner.
Transitioning from the wackiness of them to Smart and Reynolds attempting to start a relationship ends up being Just Friends‘ undoing. We have so much fun with the others that watching Chris psych himself out while in bed with Jaime only slows the pace to a crawl and makes us clamor for more random shenanigans devoid of any purpose besides laughter. They do their job so well that I would have been happy letting the film contain little else besides their one-note performances. Every character lacks redeemable qualities and no one should find happiness as a result. They only do because romantic comedies need a happily ever after to retain its audience, whether subverting the cretins we’ve watched for 90-minutes or not. Sometimes I wish a film like this could earn a Young Adult-esque finale, but just like that film failed to do so, it may be impossible.
So we accept the contrivances, the characters like Fred Ewanuick‘s Clark forgiving the despicable actions of his friend when sexual revenge is at stake, and the inclusion of actors meant to do nothing but be asses on screen. Grand scale Christmas decoration destruction and letting Marquette and Faris partake in feral bedroom conversation make up for the story’s shortcomings by constantly reminding us how goofy it all is. Anyone who willingly takes this movie seriously has no business popping the it into a DVD player. Whether Jaime and Chris discover each other or not, the real purpose of Just Friends is to make its viewers laugh and letting Reynolds and Faris make fools of themselves in front of the camera is an effective means to those ends. They do it well and make what should be a forgettable flick into a cult favorite for those who take the time to check it out.
 Amy Smart as “Jamie Palamino”, Ty Olsson as “Tim” and Ryan Reynolds as “Chris Brander” in New Line Cinema’s romantic comedy JUST FRIENDS.
 Anna Faris as “Samantha James” and Ryan Reynolds as “Chris Brander” in New Line Cinema’s romantic comedy JUST FRIENDS.
 Amy Smart as “Jamie Palamino” and Ryan Reynolds as “Chris Brander” in New Line Cinema’s romantic comedy JUST FRIENDS.